Over the years we’ve seen countless brand reinventions, with some successful and others much more on the laughable end of the scale. However, when creative agency Johannes Leonardo approached Sammy Rawal (repped in the U.S. by production company Scheme Engine) about making a music video for Kraft Single’s specially commissioned track Square It, featuring the vocal stylings of the platinum-selling Kelis (who also happens to be a Cordon Bleu trained chef), a perfect collaboration was born. With the quintessential, best-selling processed cheese slices seeking to reach new fans as part of Kraft Heinz’s larger ‘anti-advertising’ campaign efforts, Rawal cast legendary voguing diva Honey Balenciaga as a telekinesis wielding cook who transforms into a culinary goddess – the perfect accompaniment to the track’s “Grillin, chillin, spillin, dillin, BEC-ing never brie-ing” earworm greatness. Eager to find out more about the creative recipe behind Square It, DN spoke to Rawal about the challenges of bringing everything together in a one day shoot and his use of lighting to subtly bring the audience into the world of Kraft and their iconic orange squares.
With so much work under your belt and a world of opportunities out there, what about this video in particular piqued your interest?
Kelis! As a millennial, her music was very much a part of the soundtrack of my youth. The song was so fire and I could instantly envision little moments of performance the first time I heard it. Whenever I have that type of initial reaction to a song, the creative comes out pretty effortlessly. The Johannes Leonardo creative team talked me through this concept as a movement-based story about a mad chef creating recipes for a book and that got me super stoked. From the jump, we shared common reference points and spoke the same visual language which resulted in them embracing the ideas I wanted to do.
I didn’t want it to be anchored in reality, more a hyper-stylized fantasy sequence.
With the JL team introducing the base concept where did you go from there?
I wanted the casting choice to be unexpected. I knew Honey could command attention in front of a camera and kept envisioning her movement/dance style in conjunction with the narrative. So much of ballroom is about self-expression and storytelling through body movement which I knew could translate really well for the story we were trying to tell. I didn’t want it to be anchored in reality, more a hyper-stylized fantasy sequence. Her look and vibe are just so opposite to the stereotype of a chef, so her performance would automatically feel quite absurd and camp (the exact vibe we were going for). I gave her various clones specific characteristics and their own names, to think about the moments of interaction between herself and her other iterations. Ultimately, I wanted to create a story where we see our Chef ascend to a goddess-like culinary deity, capable of replication and telekinesis!
How do you tend to build your team when crewing up for a project like this?
I’m a bit of a creature of habit and such a ‘vibes’ person. I’ve been lucky enough to get the opportunity to work with friends as keys on set for a while now. It was an ambitious one day shoot so working with a familiar team meant we had a meticulous plan and were able to stick to it. Generally speaking, I love working with crews that feel representational and feel like family; QPOC, BIPOC and womxn/femme identifying folks to the front! On this job, for example, I worked with choreographer Addy Chan who I’ve known since we were 16 or 17 years old, growing up in Vancouver.
Ultimately, I wanted to create a story where we see our Chef ascend to a goddess-like culinary deity, capable of replication and telekinesis!
What were the technical considerations which underpinned your approach to the video?
So, initially when I was thinking about the various setups, I had envisioned this super technical approach using programmable camera moves and motion control. But I quickly realized how unrealistic this would be given the time and budget constraints so I had to re-imagine some stuff in regards to the technical execution. We did a bit of, what I call, “janky motion control” that involved a dolly, locked off camera and a bit of counting.
The strobe stuff was done with a couple of Sky Panels that we positioned in various areas of the space to give the frame a bit of dimension – I’ve been really into the idea of creating still/posed tableaux of people with flashing strobes go off around them…this project seemed like the perfect time to play around with that. John Ker, our brilliant DOP, shot the whole thing on an Alexa Mini and he sourced out these pretty badass Zeiss Super Speed lenses – 10mm standard lens and an 8mm for the crazy wide shots.
The golden light was one of the ways we gave a nod to the branded colour palette of Kraft.
You mentioned earlier that Kelis was a major draw to this project for you, how did the song itself influence the music video’s content?
I always approach things with a sense of musicality. Perhaps it’s because of my background as a DJ, but beat, pattern and tempo are everything to me. So much so, the storyboards I created were pretty much second-by-second moments based on the actual structure of the song. The song itself is quite different than the music you’d hear at a vogueing ball, for example, so figuring out how and where Honey’s movement would be placed in the context of the song was an important exercise for
The grade brings a wonderful aesthetic to Honey’s kitchen dance, what was the thinking behind that stylistic choice?
We didn’t want blatant product shots in the film but I definitely wanted to pay homage to the brand in more subtle ways. The golden light was one of the ways we gave a nod to the branded colour palette of Kraft. I knew I wanted to use lighting to transport the viewer into a stylized Kraft world without them necessarily being aware of it. Tricia Hagoriles, our incredible colourist, did a few sessions with us to really nail the colour. It was important for me that we also felt the heat of the kitchen which is why you feel a bunch of red kicks in the mix as well.
What can we expect from you next?
Hopefully more of these types of jobs/stories that really allow me to take my visual world to other big brands in an authentic way that doesn’t feel watered down. I feel like I have a pretty distinct visual vocabulary and voice, and it’s finally starting to feel like opportunities with more global brands are trickling in. I just wanna make cool shit that stays true to me and my community.